As more Americans worked from home over the past year and a half, one of the only outlets to escape was to get outside.
People walked, rode bikes or skated. And in our corner of the world, they headed to the mountains — hiking, camping, mountain biking and otherwise enjoying fresh air and sunshine in numbers so plentiful the trails became crowded.
With many people back in the office or at other jobs away from the house, time to get outdoors has been reduced. There is the daily commute, or more frequent shopping trips for groceries or other necessities — during the worst of COVID-19, many people ordered groceries online or limited trips to once or twice a month. People need to resist the daily grind of waking up, commuting, working and returning home, especially as it’s getting dark earlier and earlier.
It’s important to keep soaking up the sunshine and exercising outdoors — it’s good for both mental and physical health. Just the past few days, the annual changing-of-the-leaves photos being posted on social media by so many demonstrate once again the peace that nature can bring. Our mountains are alive with color. The air is crisper. The sunshine revives us. We need the outdoors.
There’s no reason to go inside as temperatures become cooler, either.
The Scandinavian countries have this expression: friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv). It translates to “open-air living” and became popular in the 1850s when Norwegian playwright and poet, Henrik Ibsen, used it to describe the value of spending time in remote locations. He believed it improved both the spiritual and physical states.
Research has proved Ibsen to be correct, with 120 minutes a week offered as the time period in which benefits begin to accrue. That’s only a couple of hours. For the many residents of Santa Fe who take to the trails in town at least an hour a day, 120 minutes is just the beginning.
A 2019 study of British adults, published in Nature, came up with the 120-minute figure, concluding the time can be divided in a number of ways. People might take a two-hour hike on the weekend or prefer 20-minute daily walks. Benefits appear to max out around the 200- or 300-minute mark. That’s an hour a day over four or five days, still less than so many outdoors enthusiasts enjoy in Santa Fe.
People in this study weren’t traveling far to find the great outdoors, either. They were walking in green spaces near where they lived, using the time spent outdoors to relax and refresh. During the worst months of the pandemic, when travel was discouraged, close proximity to both urban and wild green spaces helped many people in Santa Fe let off steam. We are fortunate to have both space and sun where we live.
In the Scandinavian countries, employers even offer time to encourage staff members to get outside during work hours. Companies block out 90 minutes on a Wednesday, for example, and employees use that time to exercise outdoors. Other companies hold meetings outdoors in warmer weather, and governments offer tax breaks for companies that subsidize employees’ sports activities. Some businesses compensate employees who cycle or walk to work.
The idea is that a life is better enjoyed when people also take time to take in nature. For many of us, the outdoors helped us cope with isolation and worry about a deadly virus. Even as life changes — back in an office and dealing with colder temperatures — don’t give up the benefits of being outdoors. Grab a warm coat and a pair of sturdy shoes. Open-air living is recommended year-round.